A Conversation with Shahram Shiva
by: Vidya Balachander, India

Ascent Toward Popularity from the Point of View of Popular Culture

What do you think about this comment by Time Magazine: "Rumi gives America an Islam it can love?"
No one I know reads Rumi as a way of gaining Islamic knowledge. Some of his poetry is simply considered blasphemous by traditional Islam. So I don't agree with the Time article in its entirely. I think "Rumi gives Islam a kinder face to show to the West" would be more appropriate.


To what extent is Rumi's poetry 'secular'- free from the 'spokes' of religion as we see it today?
Rumi has nearly 8000 poems. He has covered from the most religious to most secular, passionate, erotic and in some cases pornographic. It is not possible to corner Rumi into a small hole, as it would be with other poets. He is not really a 'poet' in a traditional sense. Someone like Kabir or Hafez are predictable almost in every poem and their style is basically consistent throughout. Rumi was a rare combination of intelligent and creativity. A poet, he is not. An expressive, highly evolved being, he is.
However, you can say that some of his poems are secular, or some are free of dogma, or some are erotic, or some are extremely passionate. But a broad brush can't be used to describe him.


Is it in fact, an accurate way to study Rumi- by dissociating his work completely from the Islam in which it was born?
Not entirely true. Islam is only 1300 years old. A child compared to Hinduism or Judaism or even Persia's own Zoroastrianism. Most knowledge in Islam already existed in other mystical traditions. However the language and the _expression of this religion can be said that is unique to (and for) the Arab world.
Rumi is a complete human. It is my belief that any other fully evolved being from any other spiritual path would share the same thoughts as Rumi. Gandhi comes to mind. Some of the poet saints of India, and from the Christian world read similar to some of the poetry of Rumi.
To limit Rumi to one religion is to dismiss his greatness. He is a poet of the world.


To what extent does the popularity of Rumi's poetry reflect on the contemporary tendency to seek 'spirituality'- as independent from religion?
I think that says it all. As dogma gradually crumbles around us, with gross misuse of responsibility by the so-called world clergy, 'spirituality' and attempts to personal betterment will prove to be the only means to realize some fulfillment in this life. The movement has already begun.